There is a really cool comment thread going on over at Bill Tammeus’s blog! It started with a post about a Scottish worship service for people who believe in God but do not care for religion. They call them “universal worship experiences,” and describe them this way: “Rather than being based around stories about Jesus Christ, Muhammed or Buddha, the sermons will focus on universal themes such as love, how people can conduct their lives in a peaceful manner, support one another and respect the planet.”
It seems to be an attempt to offer a worship experience to people who are disillusioned, discontinued, or generally disgusted with organized religion. The responses on Bill’s blog are really fascinating, and worth a few minutes of reading. I can best summarize them this way – (and this is not labeling, not over-simplifying, just summarizing!)
- Some say, how can this be authentic, theologically sound worship? It seems to be a bunch of people creating God in their own image and making themselves feel comfortable about what they believe without the rigor scripture or tradition to hold them accountable.
- Some say, this is a good thing for people with faith in God, but no faith in how God has been codified by humanity. This experience frees people to worship the God who is, who was, and who ever shall be, instead of the God that a specific group of people describes and defines according to their own cultural lens.
- Still others say, I have found a spiritual home, and am quite happy with my religion, my relationship with God, my particular path. However, my path to God may not be yours, and so an experience like this, while it wouldn’t work so well for me, may create for someone else an opportunity to encounter God, and so it should be encouraged.
- Finally, there is probably a group who is reacting by shrugging their shoulders and saying, I don’t really know enough about this endeavor to make a judgment yet.
I think I am mostly in the third group there. I am Christian - incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and all that kind of stuff. But I am also pretty firmly committed to the idea that being a stumbling block for another person’s relationship with God is not a good idea. In fact, scripture records some pretty harsh words, uttered by none other than my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and echoed other places, about those who are stumbling blocks to others. (Something about a millstone around your neck, if I remember correctly.)
I lament that I may be a stumbling block getting in the way of someone’s relationship with God just because I am a Christian, but there it is. Right or wrong, the perception is out there. I saw a "Family Guy" episode recently where Brian said, “Let’s see, ‘Believe like I do or else I’ll hurt you.’ Yep, sounds like a church!” I have spoken with numerous people who have said, “I’d like to come to church, but I don’t feel like I will be accepted there.” A friend recently emailed me, “Considering the hatefulness and exclusivism and intolerance I hear every week in church, I sometimes wonder if I’m wasting my time being a Christian.” It was not the first time I had heard such a sentiment.
I want, with all of my heart, for all people to be in right relationship with God, and I believe that God wants that, too. If my stubborn insistence that they do things my way is a stumbling block causing them to sin, that is, keeping them from living in right relationship with God, then I must give up that stubborn insistence and seek another way to set the stage so that God might enter the scene.
Maybe an interfaith, low pressure, relevant and meaningful worship service will be how God enters the hearts of people for whom walking through the doors of a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque building would be unthinkable. (As a friend wrote recently, “Feels like a lion being thrown to the Christians.”) I believe God is powerful enough to work in the midst of anything, and will find a way to work in the midst of a “Universal Worship Service,” too. Maybe they are creating God in their own image, but maybe God can find a way to work with that. If they are unreceptive to encountering God in a traditional religion anyway, trying something a little theologically “iffy” couldn’t hurt, could it?